Northern Nigeria And Underaged Voters Are Siamese Twins. Separating Them Would Be Deadly.

I had one brutal experience as an adhoc staff of INEC. I was a corper serving in Gombe state. The year was 2010. A serving senator from the state had died in April, and INEC needed to conduct a bye election to fill his seat. All corpers were drafted in. I was posted into one of the most exterior- or interior- locations for the election. So far was the village that the motorcycle that transported me there literally crossed three rivers before getting there. After about an hour of a bitter and rough ride, we burst into a small community, without electricity or telecommunications signal.

I was offered a policeman who was as disinterested in the exercise as a monkey in a swimming competition. The officer, with his baton, just sat still at a corner as he wandered far away with his eyes. I motioned for the start of the poll. Armed with my voter’s register and ballot papers, I set up the ballot boxes and polling booth. People had barely started queuing before me when I noticed something obviously wrong.

First, almost all the entire village lined up in front of me. Young and old. Male and female. I assumed it was a case of just being fascinated and wanting to catch a glimpse of what was going on. But I observed they all had the voters card (the Permanent voter card PVC hadn’t been produced at that time). Especially the kids. As they approached me, I motioned on them to get away, as they were obviously too young to vote. Some of them were befuddled, and promptly reported me to the elders. I was asked why I denied their people the right to vote. I was initially surprised at the question, but calmly retorted that the voters were clearly underaged. The man protested bitterly, claiming the children were duly registered. I quickly glanced through the voter’s register, and to my chagrin, found pictures of many, many children therein. In fact, I found pictures of babies on the register; names and addresses duly captured! God is my witness.

I motioned to the policeman on duty to help me tell them I wouldn’t allow the children vote, as the training we underwent with INEC explained it was criminal. The officer played deaf.

I decided to be smart. I collected their cards, glanced through the register, and told them their names were missing. Some of them, on hearing that, ran back home and returned with other cards. A man came with six different cards!

At the end of the sham of the election, only about one-fifth of the ballot papers had been expended. I was bold in preventing many of them from voting. Then the shocker!

The “party agents”, or so they called themselves, approached me and asked that in their meeting, they agreed that all the remaining ballot papers be thumbprinted for PDP (the ruling party at that time). I shuddered! What? I flatly refused. I told them I was already writing my report, which was bad already, and now this? The back and forth lasted all of thirty minutes. Then they threatened me. They reminded me that they were responsible for my transport to and fro, and that I shouldn’t test their resolve. They had earlier presented me barbequed whole Chicken, a bottle of malt and five thousand naira, which I refused. After holding on for so long, with the police officer assigned for my protection quietly drowning his own bottle, I advised myself appropriately. I knew there was NO way I would leave that community in one piece except they had their way. INEC had earlier told us to preserve the integrity of the poll, but NOT at the expense of our lives. They advised us to allow them do whatever they wanted once we were threatened, and only write a detailed report of whatever the atrocities were.

To cut the long story short. They thumbrinted all the remaining ballot papers. They took me to the collation centre safely where I was glad to see my colleagues again, from whose mouths, I heard worse stories of the charade called election that took place. Oh, the chicken, malt and 5K? Well, the labourer is worthy of his wages. I took the money after they practically put it in my khaki. The chicken, I gave out to my hungry colleagues later that day. I couldn’t be sure of how it was prepared. I opened the bottle of malt myself. And drank to Nigeria’s electoral misfortune…

The recent pictures of underaged voters in Kano have elicited outrage down south. INEC has been forced to deny ownership of the poll. KASIEC also denies responsibility. But INEC has admitted being forced to register underaged voters in the North. Prof Lai Olurode, former INEC Commisioner claimed that so many of the INEC staff were threatened with death if they refused to register children in the North. Professor Attahiru Jega’s insistence on the PVC in 2011 was meant to rid the register of the sort of abnormalities I saw in the Gombe register. However recent revelations suggest many underaged voters still managed to get registered with valid PVCs.

INEC can’t claim not to be culpable. Even if they’re forced to register children, where they also forced to produce the cards eventually? Why didn’t INEC simply register them, to save their lives, and mark those names, while simply deleting their data at point of production? INEC is, has been, and will always be aware of underaged voting in the North. It’s been almost impossible for INEC to stop it simply because in the North, voting at any age is seen as a right. The North has never subscribed to the adulthood-starts-at-eighteen gibberish. That may work in the South though.

In the North, from my experience, everyone is involved in politics. Politics is the major industry in the North. That’s why war-torn Borno has a higher PVC collection rate than Lagos. Everyone has entitlement to a PVC in the North. Perhaps, due to high level illiteracy, many of them are not aware that you need to attain a certain age to vote. But what is true is that, most northerners have been told that voting is a God-given right everyone is entitled to, regardless of age- and they believe it. That message, will of course, be beneficial to the politicians who believe their huge numbers can be put to good use.

Even INEC knows that stopping underaged voting in the North at this time would be very difficult. They know Northerners know nothing of the electoral act. Mass illiteracy and poverty in the north means the populace would only do whatever their leaders tell them to. After all, there was a time northern women could not vote. Until they needed their numbers. The message for now is that EVERYONE should vote, regardless of age. And they believe it. Separating them and that belief would be tantamount to separating adult Siamese twins. Deathly stuff. Reminds one of post election violence of 2011…

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